President Obama: ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago’

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Making a surprise appearance in the White House press room today, President Obama discussed his views on the Trayvon Martin verdict in a remarkably personal manner, speaking extemporaneously, and described how it feels as an African-American to have these "inescapable" experiences.  "I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community
is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history
that — that doesn't go away," he said. Video below the fold. Full transcript (excerpt):

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take
questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of
attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon
Martin ruling. I gave an — a preliminary statement right after the
ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last
week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a
little bit.

First of all, you know, I — I want to make sure that,
once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to
the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and
dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only
imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how
they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate
what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of
arguments about the legal — legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the
legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.

The judge
conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the
defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that
in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they
rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system
works.

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and
how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know,
when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my
son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35
years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American
community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I
think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community
is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that
— that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African-American men
in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when
they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the
experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on
the doors of cars.
That happens to me, at least before I was a senator.
There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of
getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and
holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens
often
.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets
of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what
happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring
those experiences to bear.

The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a
history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws,
everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And
that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now,
this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about
the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved
in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both
victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that
fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a
historical context.

We understand that some of the violence that
takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out
of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and
dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very
difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s
unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of
African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is
given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that
African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to
then see sons treated differently causes pain
.

I think the
African-American community is also not naive in understanding that
statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically
more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So
— so folks understand the challenges that exist for African- American
boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no
context for it or — and that context is being denied.
And — and that
all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was
involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both
the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is,
where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move
in a positive direction? You know, I think it’s understandable that
there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that
stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it
remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that
that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family
.

Robert Zimmerman Jr., the brother of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of
killing Trayvon Martin last week, said Friday that he’s happy President
Obama addressed the underlying issues of the case in a statement. Robert Zimmerman: ‘I’m glad he spoke out today’.

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